Free, compulsory education became the law of the land in the early 19th century, and today few would question its value. Access for all children to public schools is now an ingrained, essential common good and public right supported by government and taxpayers at all levels.
Today, a group of researchers, physicians, and policy experts declared that access to primary health care for every American family also must be considered part of the common good.
The National Academies of Sciences Engineering Medicine (National Academies) released, Implementing High-Quality Primary Care: Rebuilding the Foundation of Health Care, a comprehensive report that outlines primary care’s positive effects on society. The report sets forth a five-part implementation plan that includes a mechanism for every person in the nation to choose or be assigned a primary care practice that offers on-going primary and preventive care.
Here’s how the report defines primary care: “The provision of whole-person, integrated, accessible, and equitable health care by inter-professional teams who are accountable for addressing the majority of an individual’s health and wellness needs across settings and through sustained relationships with patients, families, and communities.”
Details may vary based on community need, but high-quality primary care could include the integration of dentists, social workers, community health workers, pharmacists, and others. The report explains why federal and state governments and private purchasers need to actively support primary care — and it outlines how a high performing primary care system could have enabled us to better handle the COVID-19 pandemic and other health crises. Also important, the report explains how primary care reduces societal inequities and leads to overall better population health.
I am pleased that this national report highlights and aligns with several of the recommendations in the report we issued in partnership with BioNJ, Emerging From COVID-19: An Action Plan for a Healthier State. Our report also calls for tracking and setting goals for primary care spending. We, too, want more holistic team-based primary care models and to move away from pure fee-for-service payments. We also highlighted and called for an improved working relationship and connection between public health officials and primary care clinicians to improve overall health in the communities they both serve.
The support from respected national leaders strengthens our calls to action for New Jersey.
This is not the first report that the National Academies has released calling for greater investment and support for primary care. The authors acknowledge that prior reports have not resulted in measurable change and, therefore, they drafted this report as an implementation plan and set forth metrics to measure progress.
Intentionally, they provide only a few, but very specific and readily available, metrics. This is where I want to draw your attention. You, our members, including purchaser partners and policy makers, should look at these measures and track where you are on them and how you can improve on them.
They include: percentage of total spending going to primary care in commercial, Medicaid and Medicare plans; percentage of primary care patient care revenue paid through capitation (as opposed to fee-for-service); percentage of adults and of children without a primary care clinician; primary care physicians per 100,000 people in both medically underserved and not underserved areas; percentage of physicians, nurses, and physician assistants working in primary care; percentage of physicians, nurses, and physician assistants entering primary care each year.
As we move out of our public health emergency and reopen the country, we have an opportunity and responsibility to improve our health care system. That work and investment should start with strengthening the foundation of our health care system, which should be primary care. Perhaps one day in the future people will consider access to primary care as fundamental to American life as access to education.